Sense Checking (aka, Return of the Pedant, That’s your problem with this?)

The disc’s greatest lovers were undoubtedly Mellius and Gretelina, whose pure, passionate and soul-searing affair would have scorched the pages of History if they had not, because of some unexplained quirk of fate, been born two hundred years apart on different continents. However, the gods took pity on them and turned him into an ironing board** and her into a small brass bollard.

**When you’re a god, you don’t have to have reasons.

Terry Pratchett, Mort

When you write, two things happen, hopefully. One is that you get better at writing and the other is that you get better at reading.  Unfortunately, the latter can mean that you revisit old friends and find that they’ve changed a lot and are not as good as you remember.  Sometimes it can happen the other way round – as Mark Twain said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

When we have the benefit of wider experience we return to a book or some such and get more out of it than we did before.  I find that with the much missed Terry Pratchett in particular; there are numerous references that are easy to miss.

Sometimes a comparatively minor point comes up which niggles.  These can be incredibly minor compared to the rest of the content, especially in the case of something which is generally

Roald Dahl was an amazingly inventive writer who has  given joy to millions.  I can remember doing a sponsored read at primary school and several of his books were in the pile that I worked through.  I loved his account of growing up and going to boarding school and later of beginning to make his way in the world and serving as a fighter pilot in WWII.

But.  I have been re-reading Matilda, and there is a discrepancy.  It probably doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things, and I clearly didn’t notice it the first time around.  To some extent I feel bad for mentioning it – it feels like speaking ill of the dead, when they aren’t around to defend themselves…

When Matilda first starts school, there is a description of the terrible Crunchem Hall Primary School.  It says that this facilty is responsible for the education of 250 children who range in age from ~5 to ~12 – what in current parlance would be reception class up to Year 6.  We’re used to modern class sizes, so we might quickly work out that there are 30 in each class, there are seven classes, so that gives us 21o.  Where are the other 40?  It gets worse – it specifcally says that there are 18 in Matilda’s class so that would give us only  126.  We might assume that Crunchem Hall is two form entry – I can’t easily find a reference for when this practice started in earnest, but a comment atttributed to a 1960s paper on education practice suggests that it was pretty well embedded then, which is a lot earlier than I might have expected.  However, I think there are two objections to this.  One, I can’t see a school going two form entry with such small class sizes and two, the implication is that this is the village school and that it is a relatively small village at that.

So that’s my problem with Matilda. I will do my best to ignore it.  I will also do my best to do sanity checks on any relevant numbers in my own writing.


One thought on “Sense Checking (aka, Return of the Pedant, That’s your problem with this?)

  1. “Return of the Pedant” – OK I’ll take that as an invitation! :-). It’s discrepAncy.

    Re ‘Matilda’: back when I was in primary school in the early to middle 1950’s an average class size would have been about 36.

    But the other thing to remember is that Roald Dahl’s world is as much imaginative as Pratchett’s. It is easier to disconnect the Discworld from reality because that’s the way he writes and that is the way of the world he has invented. Superficially Dahl’s world is closer to ours, but it is still a construct.

    Another factor is the way of reading the story. Are you reading it aloud with a certain amount of drama to a 4 year old, or reading it silently to yourself and critically?

    Either way you are keeping faith with the author, I suggest.


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